Hard News by Russell Brown

How Bizarre

The annual New Zealand Music Awards has had its share of bum notes over the years. Deep down it was your Dad's awards ceremony and it was usually at its most awkward when they tried to package it for television. Last year's split ceremony was particularly clunky. How bizarre then, that it should re-emerge this year as such a slick, engaging and impressive event.

Dinner was always a bit of a problem. While the Silver Scrolls, in keeping with its warm, clubbish atmosphere has simply put on an everyone-muck-in buffet and kept the drinks flowing while the bands played, RIANZ, which stages the Music Awards (aka, lately, the Tuis), usually seemed to get it wrong - never more so than the year at the Town Hall where they served drinks for four hours and finally, at 11pm, delivered doorstep-sized slabs of steak to everyone. So this year they scrapped the dinner, and most of the speeches too.

The other grand tradition - the pre-match scrap over judging - was retained, as it emerged that the new academy-style system meant that nominated recordings would not be sent to the new, enlarged judging panel, which also would not meet to discuss its choices. There was no way of ensuring that the judges had heard all - or any - of the contenders, and asking Wayne Mowatt to decide whether Rhombus or Subware had made the best dance music album was quite surreal.

As it turned out, there were no really perverse results and the surprise winners pleased most people. The successive delivery of David Tua (with King Kapisi), Jonah Lomu, Lawrence Makoare and Temuera Morrison to the stage didn't just provide rather more star quality than usual, it underlined the remarkably important role that Maori and Pacific Islanders now play in the local industry at a creative, if not yet an executive, level. Quite a number of presentation and acceptance speeches were made in Maori (and Samoan) and nobody minded.

There is also, it must be said, a bit more star quality about in the industry itself these days. RIANZ has been churlish in the past about actually letting the musicians into its industry do, but they were there in force on Wednesday night. And for once, the production and performances were on the money. Among them, Blindspott are - well, let's say, better than the Feelers - but their team-up with Deceptikonz was engagingly energetic, Goldenhorse were magic (I wanted Kirsten to win best female vocalist but she didn't) and the D4 stormed through their Letterman tune, 'Get Loose'.

There was one memorable standing ovation - the crowd of 1500 rose unbidden in sustained applause when a Lifetime Achievement Award was given to the late Dylan Taite. Afterwards, doubtless concluding that Dylan would have wanted it that way, those present paid further tribute through energetic application to a range of social behaviours.

To say this was the best Music Awards ever is rather understating the case - it was just on a different planet to its predecessors. It was also, clearly, a far more expensive production than in the past - Microsoft presumably picked up a reasonable slice of the bill in exchange for all that Xbox branding. With, hopefully, a few refinements - they should just make a hip-hop category and be done with it - the new model Tuis will presumably be reprised next year. And it's not your Dad's awards any more.

PS: Special mention must be made of the mOnstavision hi-res LED screens used through the evening and stacked across the stage for the D4's performance. Either these things really work or those drugs were much stronger than I thought …

PPS: More from the staring-at-grainy-photographs department. Seems the London Evening Standard's editors figured the crowd in Firdus Square when Saddam's statue fell wasn't big enough - so they faked their front-page photo to make it appear much larger than it really was. And, following up on recent posts, the Bush administration is keeping secret almost all of a Congressional report into almost all of a Congressional report and may yet withhold key information from its own investigating commission under "executive privilege". And further evidence of a bid to make the world safe for US copyright law. The RIAA is apparently already helping rewrite Iraq's perfectly reasonable copyright legislation to its satisfaction.